Iran plotting to groom bin Laden's successor
Iran is trying to form an unholy alliance with al-Qa'eda by grooming a new generation of leaders to take over from Osama bin Laden, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.
Western intelligence officials say the Iranians are determined to take advantage of bin Laden's declining health to promote senior officials who are known to be friendly to Teheran.
Tony Blair addressing the Lord Mayor's banquet last night
The revelation will deal a major blow to Tony Blair's hopes of establishing a "new partnership" with Teheran.
Addressing the Lord Mayor's banquet in London last night — an occasion traditionally used by the Prime Minister to set out the Government's foreign policy — Mr Blair said he wanted to launch a diplomatic initiative to secure peace in Iraq by establishing dialogue with Iran and ending threats of military force against the regime.
He confirmed that a major rethink of strategy was under way on both sides of the Atlantic as he offered Iran a partnership rather than isolation if it stopped supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq and halted attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
With the British and American governments looking for an exit strategy from Iraq, the Prime Minister admitted that they needed Iran's co-operation to prevent the country descending into civil war and to secure an overall Middle East peace settlement.
But the revelation that Iran is working hard to establish a closer relationship with bin Laden's fanatics, who provoked the war against terrorism with the attacks on September 11 2001, is likely to undermine severely Downing Street's attempts to effect a rapprochement. Iran is also suspected of arming insurgent groups in southern Iraq – many of which have links to al-Qa'eda – that have been responsible for many of the roadside bomb attacks against British troops.
But intelligence officials have been most alarmed by reports from Iran that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying to persuade al-Qa'eda to promote a pro-Iranian activist to a senior position within its leadership.
The Iranians want Saif al-Adel, a 46-year-old former colonel in Egypt's special forces, to be the organisation's number three.
Al-Adel was formerly bin Laden's head of security, and was named on the FBI's 22 most wanted list after September 11 for his alleged involvement in terror attacks against US targets in Somalia and Africa in the 1990s. He has been living in a Revolutionary Guard guest house in Teheran since fleeing from Afghanistan in late 2001.
Alarm over al-Qa'eda deepened yesterday with a Foreign Office warning that the group was determined to acquire the technology to carry out a nuclear attack on the West.
A senior Foreign Office official said that the terrorists were trawling the world for the materials and know-how to mount an attack using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
The official said: "We know that the aspiration is there, we know attempts to gather materials are there, we know that attempts to gather technologies are there."